Collected Thoughts

October 2017
October 7, 2017

I have returned from my travels.

A thing I noticed immediately once I got back was that I was being bounced and jounced on America’s amply pothole-supplied roads. I drove more than 750 miles in England and not once did I encounter such a roadway. But then I realized that’s because we’re rich and they’re poor, and so I was thereby made proud to be an American.

During my travels in England I saw exactly two pickup trucks. How, I asked myself, can the English get by without that basic necessity of American life? So far, I’ve reached no answer.

In any case, I had a good time. Yet travel by its very nature is tiring so I’m looking forward to relaxing for a while.

From time to time I’ll regale you with some of my journal entries from the trip.

October 9, 2017

I see that polls are reporting that really stupid people are less pleased with Mr. Trump than they used to be.

Should that make me happy?

The political questions we have to ask ourselves currently are more weird than I ever thought I would have to confront. And what’s worse is that I fear they will get even weirder than they are now.

October 10, 2017

If we agree that suffering is bad, then it’s only sane to say that it’s bad for everybody.

Anyone who wishes other people to suffer, strikes me as monstrous. And that’s true regardless of who those other people are or what they may have done. The latter is irrelevant so far as suffering goes.

If you think that’s crazy you should read Peter Singer’s Writings on an Ethical Life.

He’s smarter than you are.

October 11, 2017

Ernest Becker, who died more than forty years ago, remains famous for his book, The Denial of Death, which was published just about a year before his death. The basic thesis of his seminal work was that trying to find some way to avoid facing the truth that we humans are mortal has been the primary human endeavor through the ages.

People simply don’t like the thought of dying, or, at least, most people don’t.

Becker argued that the natural urge to deny mortality, along with the effort to achieve a heroic self-image, were the two root causes of human evil. I guess that makes sense because ambitions that override any restraint, will lead people to do anything, no matter how horrendous it might be.

The denial of death has been the progenitor of virtually all religions, and religions are pretty good candidates for the worst impulses humans have exhibited.

Whether we can find a way to battle death without actually increasing its occurrence is the central question about humanity’s future. I don’t know the answer to it. But, at least I think we should try. The desire to hold death off -- for ourselves -- is not going away, so we really do need to do our best to transform it from a source of evil into something decent and honorable.

Even so, I know it’s not going to be easy.

October 26, 2017

Some friends and I have been asking ourselves about the militaristic displays before sports contests. We think they’re foolish.

Last night, at the World Series in Dodger Stadium, a gigantic flag that almost covered the whole ball field was rippled by hundreds of hands before a set of war planes came roaring over the stadium after the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Why? What do machines of death and destruction have to do with baseball?

We should remind ourselves what military planes are. They exist only to kill people and destroy property. They are symbols of our pathetic stupidity. They tell us that killing each other and ripping up the products of imagination and labor is our way of solving problems. If that’s not arrantly stupid, it’s hard to think what stupid might be.

“Stupid,” of course, is a rude word and should be used only when one is convinced he has been driven to rudeness. Courtesy is a virtue, but it’s not as important as survival. It’s rude to say that human stupidity has now reached the point where it not only has the capacity to destroy humanity but that it clearly will destroy humanity unless it is countered and diminished. But it’s also true.

So, when we encounter ceremonies of stupidity we should say what they are, that is if we wish the human race to survive and flourish. War planes have no reasonable place at baseball games.

Get rid of them.

October 29, 2017

Here’s a letter from a fellow Vermonter -- whom I don’t know -- which appeared in the comments section after Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times this morning:

Jeffrey Lewis

This would be a useful, powerful piece if Douthat were not part of a Republican, right wing march to inflict suffering as widely as possible on everyone without substantial resources. The broad jihad against taxes and health care and the lack of both knowledge and care about policy implications, or even policy itself, shows an ignorance about causes and effects of suffering created by an unfeeling government. Suffering as a metaphysical, or psychiatric, element leaves out of account that suffering can be actively caused by others who simply don't care about the effects of their actions.

Hard-heartedness is the great sin of the political right. They seek purity of race and dogma with no sense of what that means. They celebrate pride of race and culture to mask the damage to landscape and lives. Is it fair or honest to wave the Confederate flag at NASCAR events while tolerating an opioid crisis in the same communities, or reducing standards of mine safety, air quality, or health care.

Where is the shame in these politicians for making their careers on the backs of people so poor they cannot eat well, pursue education, or find decent work? Where is the shame?

I think Lewis is essentially right about this. We now have a political movement -- generally called conservatism -- which is virtually devoid of empathy. The irony is it touts itself as the true American idealism. If this brand of conservatism is, indeed, the American ideal, it’s no wonder the U.S. is coming to be seen as the greatest threat to humane existence on the planet.

October 30, 2017

What Americans need now more than anything else is resort to evidence in forming their opinions. They began to give up the practice about four decades ago, which has led, as any sensible person would expect, to a dive straight towards degeneracy.

We now have a political environment in which evidence counts for little. One of our major parties regularly tells the electorate to forget about it. The other, while it claims to respect it, doesn’t always act as if it did.

Meanwhile we have a president, selected by the people to be the chief executive of our government, who has no idea what evidence is. It doesn’t figure in his thinking. He claims over and over that he’s going to produce it in support of his crackpot theories. And yet he never does. Remember when he said that he had sent investigators to find out whether Barack Obama’s birth certificate was legitimate and that they had come up with findings that were going to blow the cover off the Obama presidency? And, then, the investigators never appeared. They never made any reports, as far as we know. It was then that the American people should have dismissed Donald Trump as a credible political actor. He had been shown to be thoroughly irresponsible. But, instead, the people made him the president. That tells us something about the state of their minds. And it’s not pretty.

Though polls say now that a majority of Americans don’t approve of him, he retains the support of the majority party in Congress. They want to use him to achieve their own goals, which are to cater to the rich in order to retain their privileged positions. In the interest of holding onto their powers they lie regularly and consistently to the American people about what is happening to the environment, about the truth of their taxation plans, and about their willingness to work towards good medical care for all citizens. All this is well-known to those who will consult the evidence. But the anti-evidence party doesn’t care. They know that evidence is their enemy, so they want to banish it from national life.

I would very much like to see it restored, but I fear it won’t be until the price of ignoring it is shown to be even more disastrous it has already been. By then, tens of millions will have been seriously hurt. Despite the evidence of that hurt, Trump and the Republicans will continue to say it hasn’t happened. They will say it blithely, turning to their millions to shield them from the truth.

October 31, 2017

There has been a lot of talk lately about politics being terribly complex, requiring great experts to figure it out. That’s nothing but a smokescreen. Politics is not complex; it’s actually quite simple. It requires examining options and deciding which ones matter most to you.

Consider these two situations, for example. A fairly wealthy man with a boat is distressed because he doesn’t have enough money to buy a bigger boat. Parents with a sick child are distressed because they can’t get the best medical care for their offspring. Which of those two distresses concern you the most? If you can answer with no hesitation then your political course is clear.

If your sympathies lean towards the boat buyer, then we should carry on pretty much as we have and support Republican policies. If they’re in the direction of the parents then you know we need to make some radical changes which Republicans will always fight against.

All this maudlin talk about people voting as they do because they think somebody might be looking down on them is foolish. Why should you care if someone is looking down on you if you know who you are? Let them look down all they want.

Know who you are and what you care about and then your political choices will be easy.

©John R. Turner

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